Angels, Vampires & Monsters
Angels, Vampires & Monsters

Angels, Vampires & Monsters

Lead Author(s): Dr. L.M. Rodriguez

Student Price: Contact us to learn more

This books explores how films in the 20th and 21st centuries participate in the creation of a series of “Others” against which humans define and measure themselves.

Once Upon a Time in the Land of Low Budget Films a New Monster was Born

Screen shot of Romero's Night of the Living Dead.​ [1]

Director: George A. Romero

Writers: Romero & John Russo

Ben: Duane Jones

Barbara: Judith O'Dea

Harry: Karl Hardman

Helen: Marilyn Eastman

Producers: Karl Hardman & Russell Streiner

Cinematographer/Editor: Romero

Awards: Acquired by NYC's MoMA in 1980 and restored and re-released in 2016. In 1999 chosen by the  Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a movie that is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Budget: $114,000.00    Filming Location: Pittsburgh suburbs    Production Dates: June-Dec 1967  Release: October 1, 1968    Duration: 96 minutes    Filmed in: B&W    Box Office: Over $30 million 


Introduction: "Monstrosity" in the 1950's

 The devastation of WWII ended on September 2, 1945 when Japan surrendered, but only after the Japanese people had suffered the horrific fall out of two atomic bombs.

Sixty million people had died during the 6 years of WWII. Americans who had fought in Europe and the Pacific returned home, but not without deep scars, physical and psychological.

In the USA the 1950's was a period of "normalcy." That is, for the most part, white men went back to work in high-paying jobs and women were forced back into the traditional roles of stay-at-home wives and mothers. While, once again people of colorwere relegated to society's backrooms. 

In the world of American comic Books, the wave of "normalcy" also tried to drown out Super Heroes, especially Wonder Woman who had been born at the end 1941 when the USA suffered the Pearl Harbor attack. Wonder Woman appeared as a strong feminist figure to fight the unjust forces of Fascism, racism, and sadistic violence that spread like wildfire during WWII. Discussing these issues, the Smithsonian published The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman in which it is pointed out that:

"Most superheroes didn’t survive peacetime and those that did were changed forever in 1954, when a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham published a book called "Seduction of the Innocent" and testified before a Senate subcommittee investigating the comics. Wertham believed that comics were corrupting American kids, and turning them into juvenile delinquents. He especially disliked Wonder Woman. Bender had written that Wonder Woman comics display “a strikingly advanced concept of femininity and masculinity” and that “women in these stories are placed on an equal footing with men and indulge in the same type of activities.” Wertham found the feminism in Wonder Woman repulsive."

Hollywood, echoing society's general retreat into "normalcy" or "default" gave audiences of the 1950's many thriller-sci-fi-monster B Movies that metaphorically dealt with:

  • Fear of foreigners and foreign cultures.
  • Fear of Communism and, in general, fear of losing one's individualism.
  • Fear of nuclear power and mutations that lead to "ab-normalcy."
  • Fear of women who are strong and independent and don't submit to their "proper subservient place." 


​ Advertising poster by Reynold Brown for the 1958 "monster" film.[2]

All these fears are related to the concept of "default," and all reflect a deep seated fear of the "Other," what falls out of the "norm" for the members of the Establishment.

 Prehistoric Women (1950) kicks off the decade reflecting men's angst of strong females as the plot develops around a group of women who hate men but abduct a few for mating purposes only.

The 1950's known as "The Golden Age of Science Fiction Films" also produced: The Thing from Another World (1951), Them! (1954), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Tarantula (1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Fly (1958), Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (1958), and Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).



Plan 9 from Outer Space

Even though many of these films did not develop their characters and their plots were weak, audiences still find them fascinating and they still inspire modern storytellers and filmmakers.

For instance, scenes from director Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space with Bela Lugosi, and several of Wood's other B Movies, were re-created by Tim Burton in Ed Wood (1994). This project attracted A-Listers  Johnny Depp and Martin Landau and won two Oscars and a Golden Glove.

Title screen for Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space. [3]​
Discussion 1: Night of the Living Dead

Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is considered the worst movie ever made. The film is in the Public Domain and can be viewed on YouTube. Take a look at the film and briefly comment on it.


The 1960's Spawns New Horrors

On January 2, 1960 a charismatic senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, announced his campaign for President of the USA. He won the election later that year. On September 12, 1962 Kennedy gave his Moon Speech at Rice University. And the Civil Rights Movement had taken off, when in defiance on February 1, 1960, four black men had sat at a whites-only lunch counter at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Woman tagged as VNC (Vietnamese civilian). Vietnam, 1967.[4]

The decade had began with great hope and optimism, but by 1963 Kennedy was dead. Soon after key civil rights leaders suffered similar fates: Malcolm X was killed in 1965 and Martin Luther King was shot in 1968.

Moreover, on January 12, 1962 as part of Operation Chopper, the USA officially entered the Vietnam War. This led to a daily gruesome barrage of media images.

Some of the most unforgettable images were taken by a Canadian photographer, Philip Jones Griffiths, who published Vietnam Inc. In that book Griffiths states that Vietnam was a country where“a mechanized monster had despoiled an innocent landscape.”

The decade of "normalcy" had definitely ended and Americans no longer needed 1950's-style fictional monsters to scare them.


The real horror created by humans was more frightening and disturbing to the psyche. Out of this storm, Night of the Living Dead, re-invented the horror genre. It transformed the way audiences were scared by films by resorting to similar attitudes toward death and destruction that were being generated by the conflicts at home and the Vietnam War.

In  American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture (2010), author Kyle William Bishop discusses the connection between the horrific images of conflicts at home and abroad and Night of the Living Dead:

"The violence and grotesque images were unprecedented at the time, aiding this low-budget horror film in its function as an allegorical condemnation of the atrocities of Vietnam, violent racism, and the opposition to the civil rights movement. Called “hippie Gothic” by film theorist Joseph Maddrey [Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, page 51], Night of the Living Dead protested the war by graphically confronting audiences with the horrors of death and dismemberment and by openly criticizing those who use violence to solve their problems." (page 14)


Dismemberment and Cannibalism

Could the acts of dismemberment and accompanying cannibalism in Night of the Living Dead be symbolical and part of the allegorical condemnation Bishop discusses in his book?

Without a doubt, in Romero's film the scenes of dismemberment and accompanying cannibalism are some of the most graphic and disturbing. Yet let's try to understand the relevance of these scenes to the film's message of protest and social criticism, and not automatically discard them or accept them as just gratuitous "horror" elements.

Peggy Reeves Sanday in her book Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System (Cambridge, 1986) says that cannibalism ''is never just about eating.''

Also in The New York Times,  Erik Eckholm in What is the Meaning of Cannibalism? concludes: "cannibalism is always 'symbolic,' even when it is 'real'.''

Moreover, the Smithsonian Institute Magazine published an account, Sleeping with Cannibals, about the Korowai, who live in south-east Papua in the Pacific and who allegedly still practice cannibalism. In this article a Korowai named Bailom explains:

"Revenge is part of our culture, so when the khakhua eats a person, the people eat the khakhua... It's normal," Bailom says. "I don't feel sad I killed Bunop, even though he was a friend."  

Paul Michael Taylor,  Smithsonian Institution anthropologist who collaborated with producer, Judith Dwan Hallett, on the documentary Lords of the Garden (1994) describes the eating of khakhua [male witch] as "part of a system of justice."

We should remember that the issue of cannibalism has been discussed for hundreds of years.  In the 16th century Michel de Montaigne, considered the inventor of the creative non-fiction essay format, wrote Of Cannibalism (1581):

"I am not sorry that we should here take notice of the barbarous horror of so cruel an action, but that, seeing so clearly into their faults, we should be so blind to our own. I conceive there is more barbarity in eating a man alive, than when he is dead; in tearing a body limb from limb by racks and torments, that is yet in perfect sense; in roasting it by degrees; in causing it to be bitten and worried by dogs and swine (as we have not only read, but lately seen, not amongst inveterate and mortal enemies, but among neighbours and fellow-citizens, and, which is worse, under colour of piety and religion), than to roast and eat him after he is dead."

Montaigne defended the dignity and rights of native peoples by warning Europeans to not be so quick to judge foreign customs without first taking a good look at themselves.

Yet, judging and labeling non-Europeans as "savages" and "cannibals" (whether they are real practicing anthropophaginians or not, and the term has been quite used and abused) allowed Europeans to group most Africans, Asians, and New World people as "Other," to de-humanize them as transgressors of the "norm" and ultimately to appropriate everything they owned, and finally, destroy and discard them.

Discussion 2: Night of the Living Dead

In the context of Caribbean colonial history, what have you heard about cannibalism? Do you think in "Night of the Living Dead" the cannibalism that is shown might be symbolical of colonialism or other act of aggression?


Lynching and Other Aspects of the Legacy of Slavery

As we have noted, Bishop in American Zombie Gothic, discusses how Night of the Living Dead is an allegory that questions the USA's involvement in Vietnam, racism, and the inability of certain groups to recognize the civil rights of all human beings. 

Bishop also states that the film is "politically subversive." (page 14)

But what does it mean to be "politically subversive"?

The key here is the word "subversive" which can be best understood if broken up into two sections:

  • "sub" is the prefix and means "underneath."
  • "versive" comes from the Latin "vertere" and means "to turn."

So a "subversive" in the field of politics or any other field such as art or science, would try to upturn, shake up or even destroy the "system" from underneath. Subversives are not necessarily good or bad, but they are definitely trying to change the status quo through a new message.

Discussion 3: Night of the Living Dead

Name a person you consider a "subversive" in his or her field (arts, social, science, politics, etc). Why do you consider this person "subversive" or "revolutionary"?


How is the "subversive" message shown in "Night of the Living Dead"?

The "subversive" message is most clearly seen in the film's final moments:

Ben, the main character played by African-American man, survives a night-long battle with zombies. Throughout Ben demonstrates intelligence, leadership, bravery, and compassion.

But instead of being recognized as a hero, Ben is summarily shot, his body discarded as trash by the forces of racism and discrimination embodied by a mob of white men guided by German Sheppard dogs (Hitler's favorite breed).

The final minutes of Night of the Living Dead reflect the legacy of slavery in the USA.

The mob views Ben as a “walking dead,” a non-human, "Other" and proceed to "lynch" him.

In 1968 Duane Jones starred as Ben in Night of the Living Dead. [​5]

Lynching was a practice by extra-judicial mobs of publicly torturing and killing people of color usually by hanging from a tree.

Often photos were taken and sold as postcards, dismemberment took place of the victims, and body parts were kept as souvenir.

Lynch mobs also targeted those who defended the rights of people of color.  Integration workers were especially targeted during the 1964 Freedom Summer.

In 1968 the last “official” lynching took place in the United States. But according to new reports, lynchings have continued to take place, and the noose, as symbol of lynching, continues to show up at universities, museums, and even quiet suburban neighborhoods.


Responding to the Legacy of Slavery in the USA

Politics and Laws

There have been some political attempts to deal to with this legacy:

For example, on June 13, 2005, that is, 105 years after the first anti-lynching bill was proposed by a black congressman, the Senate of the USA apologized for its failure in the early 20th century, "when it was most needed," to enact a Federal anti-lynching law. Anti-lynching bills that had passed the House of Representatives were defeated by filibusters by powerful Southern senators. Prior to the vote, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu said: 

"There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility.”

The resolution was passed on a voice vote with 80 senators co-sponsoring. The resolution expressed:

"the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching, the ancestors of whom were deprived of life, human dignity and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States."


Discussion 4: Night of the Living Dead

Name a law that attempts to deal with racism or discrimination.


Art in All Forms

On the other hand, there is a concerted effort of artists grappling with lynching, racism, and discrimination through their work. 

Poets, singers, filmmakers, and other artists and specialists in different fields, including historians, architects, and engineers through re-constructions efforsts, have tried to bring much needed attention to these issues through their work.

Take a look at this video about the reconstruction of the Whitney Plantation that became the USA's first museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery.


Also, W. Jason Miller, author of Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture writes in The Florida Bookshelf:

"No poet spoke about lynching more than Langston Hughes. Behind many of his best poems, the ghosts of lynch victims hover like watermarks on bonded paper."

Langston Hughes's anti-lynching poem, Christ in Alabama, was so controversial that Hughes’s appearance at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on the first day of its publication in 1931 required that a police guard be stationed outside Gerrard Hall for his public reading. Advertising spots in the magazine where the poem was published immediately dropped from ten to a mere one ad by the very next issue. Addressing lynching was not easy for Hughes or his publishers.

Despite facing intense censorship, Hughes kept responding to lynching throughout his lifetime. His Dream Deferred is one the world’s most well-known poems. Here he quietly but assertively interrogated equal opportunity in America by using lynching as a coded analogy. He reactivated the idea of fruit made famous in Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit.” Where Holiday sang of fruit “for the sun to rot,” Hughes updated the metaphor by asking if dreams “dry up like a raisin in the sun?” His poem is America’s most memorable record of the emotional scars left by lynching. Hughes used stealthy imagery to suggest that dreams could be figuratively added to the list of things that could be lynched."

It was in 1939 that Abel Meeropol wrote the poem/song Strange Fruit about lynching which was performed most famously by Billie Holiday:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
scent of magnolia
sweet and fresh
then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit
for the crows to pluck
for the rain to gather
for the wind to suck
for the sun to rot
for the tree to drop

Here is a strange
and bitter crop.

But perhaps one of the most poignant attempts at exposing the legacy of slavery was made by a recent film: Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave (2013) which won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture Film of the Year 2014 and won over 200 other awards. It is based on a true story.

Among the many telling scenes concerning the economic and social system of slavery in the USA, one of the most disturbing is of the attempted lynching scene of the main character Solomon Northup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The Visual Culture Blog analyses the significance of this scene in Steve McQueen and the Long Take:

"The scene is deliberately intense in the way it is constructed with  regard to its visual elements, the representative time span it covers as  well as the way the different shots are edited together.... The scene takes a dramatic turn when Ford’s overseer turns and walks  away from Solomon who is still hanging from the tree while his feet are  barely touching the muddy ground. The noose remains tight on Solomon’s  neck as he struggles to breathe and stand on the slippery surface.... McQueen actively uses the long take to confront the viewer with a reality that must not be forgotten."

Also, you can watch a break down of the lynching scene in this video-review of the film:


The video-review stresses that the resolution of the film is not really satisfying as the scars of the era of slavery have not really healed. Unfortunately, perhaps as American writer William Faulkner, author of The Sound and the Fury (1929) once said: 

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Discussion 5: Night of the Living Dead

Listen to Billy Holiday sing or read some of Langston Hughes' poetry or watch "12 Years a Slave". Do you think art can help highlight and heal the scars left by the legacy of slavery in the USA?


A Short History of Zombies, Zombification, and Media

As introduction to the history of zombies, let's listen to Kyle William Bishop discuss his research:


Discussion 6: Night of the Living Dead

After listening to Kyle Bishop's TED talk, what impressed you the most about what he spoke about?


Zombies as Allegory

No doubt, the zombie character has become an allegory for colonialism, slavery, exploitation, loss of humanity and individualism as a by-product of the imposition of political and economic systems, and even as Bishop says, a way of understanding the spread of ideas.

Also, according to Bishop and other scholars, zombies were born in Haiti, as a mixture of African and Christian traditions. In fact it was a respected  Haitian writer and social activist, René Depestre, who wrote:“The history of colonization is the process of man's general zombification.” (Change, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1971 page 20)

Let's dig deeper into zombies, zombification, and the undead's stellar journey into popular culture.


Caribbean Origins

The Hollywood zombie-slave-monster allegory originates in the Caribbean. Journalist-historian Amy Wilentz wrote in The New York Times on October 30, 2011 in A Zombie is a Slave Forever:

“He [zombie] is a New World phenomenon that arose from the mixture of old African religious beliefs and the pain of slavery, especially the notoriously merciless and cold blooded slavery of French-run, pre-independence Haiti.”

Also, Bishop points out in American Zombie Gothic:

“Not only is the zombie a fundamentally American creation, but it is also perhaps the most unique member of the monster pantheon; that is, although creature such as ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and reanimated corpses were also born in the depths of folk tradition, the zombie is the only supernatural foe to have almost entirely skipped an initial literary manifestation, “pass[ing] directly from folklore to the screen.” (pages 12-13)

Note: Check out the classic Caribbean novel, Jean Rhys’, Wide Sargasso Sea (published 1966 and adapted for the big screen in 1993). In her novel, Rhys creates a backstory for Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) which tells the story of a Mr.Rochester and the wife he keeps imprisoned in his attic declaring her insane and "dark," an "Other."

In Wide Sargasso Sea, the wife's "zombification" is first presented as a "passionate love" between the poor English Mr. Rochester and the wealthy Creole Antoinette Cosway and then quickly de-evolves into a master/slave relationship in which Rochester appropriates all of Antoinette's wealth and her liberty.


Hollywood Stars

Definitively zombies are a uniquely a New World “Monster” but only become “Hollywood Stars” as part of the occupation of Haiti by the United States (1915-1934) and a book, The Magic Island (1929) published by American explorer, William Buehler Seabrook (1884–1945).

The Magic Island is credited with introducing the concept of zombies to popular culture and setting off a media craze. Seabrooks' book included a 12 page chapter titled "Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields" and several illustrations by Alexander King. Apparently this chapter and illustrations inspired Kenneth Webb’s 1932 stage play titled, Zombie, which opened in Broadway on February 10, 1932 but only played for 21 performances.

But that's when the media craze truly took off via the brothers Victor and Edward Halperin who that same year produced White Zombie in a Hollywood.

Their movie was clearly inspired by Webb's work but the Halperin's had not asked for his permission nor paid him anything. Plus Webb felt that the film had killed the future of his play and sued but lost, and so the word "zombie" entered the public domain and general imagination.

The Mummy​ and White Zombie were both released in 1932. [6]



“There was much somnambulism evident in The Mummy and other thirties horror films; what had originally been a German metaphor for involuntary military conscription in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) now reflected a more diffuse anxiety in America. The shuffling spectacle of the walking dead in films like White Zombie (1932) was in many ways a nightmare vision of a breadline… Zombies were especially handy in the present economy, for as San Francisco reviewer Katherine Hill quipped, “They don’t mind about overtime.”  (pages 168-69)



Discussion 7: Night of the Living Dead

Watch the 1932 version of "The Mummy." What did you like about this version of the film? Would you consider it a cinematic allegory for the Great Depression and the poverty and hunger of the 1930's?


NOTE: If you thought that dressing as a zombie is a 21st C. pastime, think again! Skal continues:

...[Hill] noted that the theater management had positioned costumed members of the living dead throughout the lobby like so many potted palms. “To my genuine horror,” Hill recalled, “I discovered a lady zombie in the retiring room. Did you ever try to telephone with a zombie right behind you? It’s too terrible, really.” (pages 168-69)
Sumptuously colored White Zombie lobby card. [7]​

On August 4th, 1932, Hollywood Stardom truly began for zombies with the release of White Zombie with Lugosi and Madge Bellamy.

At first glance the film looks like a love story set in an exotic location.

But an analysis of the subtext brings forth themes of capitalistic exploitation of Third World people and women's sexual subjugation, both being turned into "Other."


Discussion 8: Night of the Living Dead

"White Zombie" is now in the Public Domain. Please watch it and briefly comment on how the zombies in that film are different from zombies portrayed in films made after 9/11. If they are different, what might be the reason behind this?


The Zombie Renaissance and Continuing Wildfire

​ Zombie Bike Ride in Key West, Florida in 2014. [8]


As Bishop points out in his Ted Talk, that it was after 2002 that the "zombie allegory" spread like wildfire starting with the British film Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.

Nowadays zombies might seem a bit of a joke, even riding bicycles in sunny Key West, and of course on shows and films like The Walking Dead on AMC (American Movie Classics), Warm Bodies (2013), World War Z (2013), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), and Train to Busan (2016, South Korea). 


Moreover, there are a slew of zombie films being released in the near future plus critics have pointed out that the recent films and video games in the genre require viewers and players to become more emotionally invested in the main characters as in The Girl With All the Gifts (2016). 



ANOTHER CURIOUS CASE OF COPYRIGHT LOSS

If you asked Cuban-Lithuanian-American film director George Romero (1940-2017) about the ever popular Night of the Living Dead (1968), he might say the zombie wildfire began with his film in 1968 and its curious copyright case:

Discussion 9: Night of the Living Dead

What social and/or political reasons would you consider caused the zombie renaissance in 2002 and, in your opinion, why does it continue to spread?


Unlikely Cultural (Art)ifact

New York City's MoMA

Night of the Living Dead and its director, Romero, were first recognized and honored by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1970 with a showing as part of their Cineprobe program. The MoMA page states about the film:

Cooper Family, symbolical of a patriarchal order. [​9]
Cooper Family daughter turns against her own father. [10]​

 "Variety, in its 1968 review, called it an "unrelieved orgy of sadism." Yet the timeliness of its themes enabled the film to survive the pornography of violence label and critics' initially dismissive reviews. Released at a time when disillusionment was running rampant in the country—spurred by the Vietnam War and the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy—Americans identified with the film's most shocking suggestion: death is random and without purpose. No one dies for the greater good or to further the survival of others. Instead, people die to feed faceless, ordinary America. A metaphor for societal anxiety, the sight of America literally devouring itself and the representation of the desecration of the wholesome American family were "reflections of social hysteria" (J. Hoberman) and served as a release for the country's repressed trauma." 

(Full article here.)


MoMA acquired an original print of the film in 1980. Then in recent years the museum together with the Film Foundation, the preservation nonprofit started by the director Martin Scorsese, carried out a full restoration with a price tag of $400 thousand using original negatives. According to The New York Time's Guess What’s Back From the Grave? ‘Night of the Living Dead,' the new version will be copyrighted, plus Romero said of it:

“The restoration is very beautiful, and of course the movie’s pimples do show,” he said. “There’s a copy of the script visible in one of the frames! I won’t tell where. It will be a little challenge for fans to spot it.”

The museum had a premiere for the new version as part of its To Save and Project: The 14th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation.

Romero was in attendance at the screening and thanked MoMA for having the "audacity to call it art."  For more on the restoration, go here.

Library of Congress' National Film Registry

Night of the Living Dead was added by the National Film Preservation Board to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1999. Read the essay about the film here.


Legacy

It's been half a century since the premiere of Night of the Living Dead in the Fall of 1968 but somehow it is still very much with us. But why does it still resonate with viewers?

In the article, 50 years of zombies: Designing the undead to explain the living, it is stated that at the end of the 1960's:

  "Night of the Living Dead" communicated many of the nation's anxieties --  

Perhaps once more we are living in an atmosphere of "national anxieties." And to add to that difficult situation, we are also trying to cope with a number of "global anxities" such as enviromental changes, the threat of nuclear war, and loss of privacy due to social media. Then as now, Romero might have expressed it most clearly in Birth of the Living Dead :

"There was a bit of rage, a bit of disappointment."  

In addition, Kyle William Bishop offers us key concluding remarks about Romero's film stating in American Zombie Gothic about Night of the Living Dead:

“Although once considered an example of “low art” or B-movie making, Night of the Living Dead exemplifies the ability of the best genre fiction to address the issues explored by literary fiction. Romero was reacting to the social problems and cultural environment of the 1960's , using his low-budget film to comment on the widespread conflict arising from feelings associated with the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing war in Vietnam." (pages 127-28)

Bishop adds that Romero's first "zombie" film is of cultural importance because it was a "major shift in the stylistic and thematic “rules” of the cinematic zombie narrative" and "particularly pessimistic turn in the invasion narrative tradition, one in which the human —not the monster— is the disenfranchised Other." Moreover, Bishop points out that the horror factor in a film as Night of the Living Dead "comes from recognizing the human in the monster, and the terror of such films comes from knowing there is little to do about it but destroy what is left.” (pages 127-28)

The "invasion narrative tradition" and dis-enfranchised human themes would be taken up a decade plus a year later with the Alien (1979), now starring an "Other," a young woman, Ripley played by a young Sigourney Weaver. Listen to Sigourney Weaver talk Alien, Avatar, "making a girl a hero" and how human beings have to be saved from themselves here. Check out my own article on the Alien franchise here.


Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'

Finally, Romero's Night of the Living Dead continues to inspire filmmakers as Jordan Peele whose Get Out (2017) won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2018 and the New York Times Magazine called it the movie of the year. Perhaps, because the film works not only as horror and social commentary, but even allows us to laugh thanks to the character of Rod Williams, who functions as a contemporary Trickster Archetype and who I argue is the film's true hero in my review of the film: Get Out and A Quiet Place: The New Social Thrillers.



In the 90 years of the Oscars no person of color had ever been honored with a screenwriting award.




Also, the American Film Institute listed Get Out as a best Movie of the Year 2017, stating that:

"GET OUT is a cinematic primal scream - one that echoes today with epic power and an urgency that resonates. Jordan Peele's pitch-black social satire is a damning examination of the contemporary discourse on race - brought to life with breathtaking brilliance by Daniel Kaluuya and a cast of eerie liberal allies in Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. Bold and brave, the film shakes us awake to say the nightmare is now."

Listen to Jordan Peele speak about his film and Romero's Night of the Living Dead:


Discussion 10: Night of the Living Dead

Would you consider Jordan Peele's 'Get Out' a "zombie" film or some other type of "monster" film? Give a specific example of how 'Get Out' reflects the legacy of slavery in the USA. For example, how does it visually show racial segregation.


Other Sources on George Romero and Notable Zombie Films

Dawn of the Dead (1978): Parody of capitalism and consumerism.

Day of the Dead (1985): Cultural metaphor of the Cold War, fear, and paranoia.

Land of the Dead (2005): Exploration of class struggles and abuses by the super wealthy.

Diary of the Dead (2007): Foresaw the use of media to blur line between reality and fiction.

Survival of the Dead (2009): Romero's final look into humanity's worst tendencies.


You might be interested in checking out an important Italian zombie film:

Lucio Fulci's Zombie 2 (1979): Zombies return to the Caribbean.


For some other interesting post 9/11 zombie films, check out:


Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002): An incurable virus spreads throughout the UK. It is credited with reinvigorating the zombie genre. 

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later (2007):  Set six months after the virus has spread through Great Britain.             

 


For a post 9/11 zombie film showing hope that our humanity can have a re-birth and that war can come to an end, watch the extended social metaphor based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with John Malkovich: Jonathan Levine's Warm Bodies (2013).



Finally, check out these literary and classic film antecedents of Romero's zombie films:

Daphne du Maurier's novel The Birds (1952) that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963).

Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers (1955) that inspired Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Richard Matheson's I am Legend (1954) that inspired Ragona and Salkow's The Last Man on Earth (1964).


​Lobby card for the American film King of the Zombies (1941). [11]



Discussion 11: Night of the Living Dead

Which is your favorite modern zombie film, TV show, video game or illustrated book or comic book? Why?


IMAGE CREDITS

[1] Image by George Romero under Public Domain.

[2] Image by Reynold Brown under Public Domain.

[3] Image by Edward D. Wood under Public Domain.

[4] Image by Philip Jones Griffiths/National Library of Wales  under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

[5] Image by George Romero under Public Domain.

[6] Image by Employee(s) of Universal Pictures, attributed to Karoly Grosz under Public Domain.

[7] Image by United Artists under Public Domain.

[8] Image by Key West Life under CC-BY-SA-4.0. 

[9] Image by George Romero under Public Domain.

[10] Image by George Romero under Public Domain.

[11] Image by Monogram under Public Domain.


Books Cited

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. McGraw Hill Text, 1946.

Jones Griffiths, Phillip. Vietnam Inc. Collier Books, 1971.

Maddrey, Joseph. Nightmares in Red, White and Blue. McFarland, 2004.

Reeves Sanday, Peggy. Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System. Cambridge, 1986.

Skal, David J. The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

William Bishop, Kyle. American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. McFarland, 2010.



A term primarily used in the United States and Canada to describe any person who is not white.
Anxiety that is mixed with frustration and negativity.
Person who eats human flesh.
Existing state of affairs, particularly with regard to social or political issues.
Walking or moving while in a deep stage of sleep.
No voice, no vote, no rights.